Parrot in the Oven Audio: mi vida

Overview

Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a poor Mexican American family in which the alcoholic father only adds to everyone's struggle.

Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a poor Mexican American family in which the alcoholic father only adds to everyone's struggle.

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Overview

Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a poor Mexican American family in which the alcoholic father only adds to everyone's struggle.

Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a poor Mexican American family in which the alcoholic father only adds to everyone's struggle.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Sherri Byrand
"Miracles don't wait for doubters," says Manny Hernandez, this book's main character and a youth worthy of our attention. This account of his life is a miracle of its own-powerful and poignant, stunning in its simplicity. Although it introduces some very heavy issues, including Manny's sister who miscarries her child at home and his father's alcoholism and abusiveness, its approach makes this book appropriate for even the youngest members of its intended audience. It never slips into the callous tones of a cynical adult; every page resonates with Manny's voice. Given the book's subject matters, it is an excellent resource for classroom discussion on the topics of spousal abuse, gangs, and racism.
The ALAN Review - Rob Linné
Manny Hernandez endures a lot during the year that leads up to his initiation into a California gang. He learns about hard work out in the sweltering vegetable fields and experiences class stratification at a high school party where he is not welcomed. Manny helps his older sister through a life-threatening miscarriage but almost takes his younger brother's life when he accidentally fires his father's shotgun. The young protagonist narrates all of these events with a future writer's eye for detail and a unique take on human character. Martinez's coming-of-age story reads like true adolescence - absurd and funny from a distance, yet painful when you're stuck in the middle of it all. I already lost one afternoon to this bitter-sweet book and now I've picked it up again. I think many reluctant readers would also have a hard time turning away once Manny started talking straight to them about what growing up is really all about.
The ALAN Review - Jennifer Norris
Filled with enough metaphors to impress any English teacher, Parrot in the Oven: mi vida is a story told by a teenage Mexican American boy, Manny, who is attempting to find his place in a society full of disappointment. Set in the projects, Manny gives a very realistic account of what it is like to grow up as a minority in a poor, dysfunctional home. Receiving no real direction from his family, Manny battles with what type of man he should and will become. He is tempted by gang life (in his attempt to be accepted somewhere), but at the same time, he seems to have a pure heart that prohibits him from falling too far. The coming of age plot is further complicated by Manny's family life. His father is an out of work alcoholic who is incapable of giving guidance to his floundering son. His mother is the peace-keeper, mainly concerned with damage control. His older brother (who has a steady stream of jobs that don't ever seem to work out) seems to be on the same path as his alcoholic father. His teen-age sister deals with sexual issues including the miscarriage of her baby. With themes such as honor, abuse, and alcoholism, this coming of age novel is very readable for upper middle/high school students; however, teachers should be aware of the controversial issues within the novel: drugs, alcohol, language, and the graphic miscarriage. Because of the novel's extremely realistic teenage voice, this novel is reminiscent of S. E. Hinton's Tex or The Outsiders and therefore would definitely gain the interest of the high school reader.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780694700936
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 Cassettes
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 13 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.53 (w) x 7.05 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Victor Martinez was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. Mr. Martinez was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for Parrot in the Oven, his first novel. He now makes his home in San Francisco, California.

Steve Scott is the illustrator of Splish Splash by Joan Bransfield Graham and is a children's book designer. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Baseball Glove

That summer my brother, Bernardo, or "Nardo," as we call him, flipped through more jobs than a thumb through a deck of cards. First he was a dishwasher, then a busboy, then a parking attendant and, finally, a patty turner for some guy who never seemed to be in his hamburger stand for more than ten minutes at a time. (Mom believed he sold marijuana, or did some other illegal shamelessness.) Nardo lost one job for not showing up regular enough, another for showing up too regular -- the boss hated his guts. The last job lost him when the owner of the hamburger stand packed up unexpectedly and left for Canada...

The job Nardo misses most, though, was when he worked as a busboy for the Bonneville Lakes Golf and Catering Service. He says it was the only time he ever got to touch elbows with rich people. The parties they catered served free daiquiris, whisky drinks and cold beer, really cold, in big barrels choking with ice. At some parties, like the one he got fired from, they passed out tickets for juicy prizes like motorcycles, TV sets, stereos and snow skis. The last party had a six-piece band and a great huge dance floor so the "old fogies," as my brother called them, could get sloshed and make fools of themselves.

As it turns out, he and a white guy named Randy took off their busboy jackets and began daring each other to get a ticket and ask a girl to dance. Randy bet Nardo wouldn't do it, and Nardo bet he would, and after a two-dollar pledge he steered for the ticket lady.

"I could've hashed it around a bit, you know, Manny," he said. "I could've double- and triple-dared the guy a couple of times over,then come up with a good excuse. But that ain't my style."

Instead he tapped Randy's fingers smooth as fur and walked up to the ticket lady. She peered out from behind the large butcher-paper-covered table at the blotches of pasta sauce on his black uniform pants and white shirt -- which were supposed to go clean with the catering service's light-orange busboy jacket, but didn't -- and said, "Ah, what the hell," and tore him out a tag.

Before the little voice nagging inside him could talk louder, Nardo asked the nearest girl for a dance. She had about a million freckles and enough wire in her mouth to run a toy train over. They stumbled around the dance floor until the band mercifully ground to a halt. She looked down at his arm kind of shylike and said, "You dance real nice."

Now my brother had what you could call a sixth sense. "Es muy vivo," as my grandma used to say about a kid born that way, and with Nardo it was pretty much a scary truth. He could duck trouble better than a champion boxer could duck a right cross. He made hairline escapes from baths, belt whippings and scoldings just by not being around when punishment came through the door. So I believed him when he said something ticklish crawled over his shoulder, and when he turned around, there, across the dance floor, in front of the bandleader about to make an announcement over the microphone, was his boss, Mr. Baxter-and boy was he steamed!

Mr. Baxter owned the catering service, and sometimes, my brother said, the way he'd yell at the busboys, it was like he owned them, too. Mr. Baxter didn't say anything, just pointed to the door, then at Nardo, and scratched a big X across his chest. Just like that, he was fired.

The way Nardo tells it, you'd think he did that man a favor working for him. "Don't you ever get braces, Manny," he said, as if that were the lesson he'd learned.

At first Nardo didn't want to go to the fields. Not because of pride, although he'd have used that excuse at the beginning if he could've gotten away with it. It was more because, like anyone else, he didn't like sobbing out tears of sweat in 110-degree sun. That summer was a scorcher, maybe the worst in all the years we'd lived in that valley desert, which our town would've been if the irrigation pumped in from the Sierra were turned off. I could tell how searing it was by the dragged-out way my mom's roses drooped every morning after I watered them. The water didn't catch hold. The roses only sighed a moment before the sun sucked even that little breather away.

Although it was hard for Nardo to duck my mom's accusing eyes, especially when Magda, my sister, came home slumped from the laundry after feeding bedsheets all day into a steam press, he was refusing to work anymore. Whether one tried threats, scoldings, or even shaming, which my mom tried almost every other day, nothing worked. We all gave it a shot, but none more vigorously than my dad. He'd yell and stomp around a little space of anger he'd cut in our living room, a branch of spit dangling from his lip. He'd declare to the walls what a good-for-nothing son he had, even dare Nardo to at least be man enough to join the Army. He vowed to sign the papers himself, since Nardo wasn't old enough.

The thing was, my dad wasn't working either. He'd just lost his job as a translator for the city because he'd drink beer during lunch and slur his words. Ever since losing his job, and even before, really, Dad had about as much patience as you could prop on a toothpick. He was always zeroing in on things he wanted to be disappointed in, and when he found one, he'd loose a curse quicker than an eyeblink. Even when he wasn't cursing, you could still feel one simmering there under his lip, ready to boil over.

Parrot in the Oven. Copyright © by Victor Martinez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction:

Winner of the 1996 National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category, Parrot in the Oven: mi vida deals with the pressures of family and community that Manny Hernandez faces during the fourteenth year of his life. Manny Hernandez's dad is always calling him el perico, or "the parrot," from a Mexican saying about a parrot who complains how hot it is in the shade while all along he's sitting in the oven and doesn't know it. But Manny, wanting to be smarter than the parrot, struggles with the awkwardness of adolescence as he searches for acceptance and becomes a vato firme, a stand-up guy.

Rich imagery in a series of vividly real vignettes guides us around the obstacles in Manny's coming-of-age—pressure to join a gang, awkward crushes, and fitting in with friends. Manny also copes with the characters in his crazy family--a drunk father, a brother who "flips through more jobs than a thumb through a deck of cards," a mother who compulsively scrubs, hoping her troubles will be washed away, and a sister who has a miscarriage.

Questions For Discussion:

  1. Reviewed as a "brilliant, witty memoir of a Mexican-American adolescence" (U. S. News and World Report), Parrot in the Oven is clearly a story highly influenced by the race and culture of its protagonist. But the crises and problems that Manny experiences—love, violence, sibling conflicts, gangs—are universal obstacles in teenage life. How do Manny's experiences speak to readers of all genders, races, and socioeconomic levels? How is Manny's story specific to the Hispanic-American barrio life thatthe author introduces? Are there certain experiences that are more applicable to urban communities? Males?
  2. In Chapter 4, "The Bullet," we discover the meaning of the book's title. Is el perico an accurate description of Manny? Is it ironic that Manny's father calls him this? In what ways is Manny trusting or not trusting? How does Manny become wiser in the course of the novel? What light does the title's significance shed on Manny's relationship with his father and on his father's personality?
  3. Readers of Parrot in the Oven plunge into Manny's world through a series of chapter-length vignettes, each detailing a specific episode in Manny's critical fourteenth year of life. Before he wrote Parrot in the Oven, Victor Martinez was primarily a short-story writer and poet. Do you think that the format of this novel is influenced by Martinez's work as a poet? Can the vignettes be appreciated as separate entities? What links each episode to the others in the novel?
  4. Overflowing with figurative language, Parrot in the Oven is "a whirlwind of surprising similes and inventive turns of phrase" (Kirkus Reviews). How does Martinez's rich language make Manny's story more poignant? Did the language enrich your reading of this novel? What are some of the most memorable metaphors and images in the novel? Do you notice any recurring metaphors?
  5. Whom do you see as the head of the Hernandez household? In discussing this, consider the episodes described in Chapters 4 and 5, when Mrs. Hernandez allows her abusive husband to be taken to jail but anxiously awaits his return. Is there a bread-winner in this family? Does the Hispanic culture have an influence on who assumes the role of the family figurehead? How does this affect Manny and his relationship with each of his parents? Keeping in mind all the situations in the year that the novel spans, who is the family's decision-maker?
  6. Are you surprised by Mr. Hernandez's compassion at the conclusion of the "Family Affair" chapter, which details Magda's miscarriage? Why or why not? Do you think that Mrs. Hernandez and Manny's worry was necessary?
  7. Victor Martinez is a native Californian who worked a variety of odd jobs and believes he was steered in the right direction by a couple of good teachers. How do you think that Martinez's life both influences and enhances Manny's tender story?
  8. Throughout the novel, we get to know Nardo as Manny's strong older brother who knows how to have a good time, but doesn't necessarily know how to hold down a job. Manny and Nardo are clearly different, and Manny occasionally points these instances out. But how are Manny and Nardo alike? And what, specifically, is so different about the brothers? Is each of the brothers more like one of their parents?
  9. Discuss the way Manny narrates the situation in "The Rifle," when Pedi is almost shot. Who, if anyone, is blamed for the shooting?
  10. Several of the characters in Parrot in the Oven idealize specific material possessions. Manny's wants a baseball glove "so bad a sweet hurt blossomed in his stomach whenever he thought about it" (p.7). Magda "lived and breathed to caress her records" (p.90). Mother has her movies and statues, and Father has his rifle. Why do the characters value these possessions? Is there any common characteristic among these desired items? Can you think of any other items that characters seek in this novel?

About the Author:

Victor Martinez says that his background "makes up the stuff of his work." Born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children, he attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University. Mr. Martinez has also worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk.

Victor Martinez's poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in such prestigious publications as Si, El Andar, The Bloomsbury Review, and the High Plains Literary Review.

Victor Martinez lives with his wife in San Francisco. Parrot in the Oven: mi vida, winner of the National Book Award and the Pura Belpre Award, is his first novel.

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